Outfielder Terrance Gore stepped out of the batter’s box during an early-season game last year with the Royals’ Class AA affiliate at Northwest Arkansas.
There were two strikes when Gore got the sign from manager Vance Wilson: bunt.
“I didn’t like it,” Gore admitted.
What player would? But like it or not, Wilson was determined to get the kid with speed to burn on base. One way to do that was bunting.
While Gore’s speed dazzled fans in Kansas City after being added to the Royals’ roster late in the 2014 season, he batted just .218 at Class A Wilmington that season.
“He knew that we were going to be hard on him and force him to do some things that maybe he hadn’t done in the past, not only for the Kansas City Royals’ sake but for Terrance’s career,” Wilson said Friday. “You can’t run like that and hit .200. Then if your team is not in the playoffs, you’re not a major-league player.”
Gore got the bunt sign frequently in the first half of the season. But after a 0-for-12 skid to start the season, Gore had a 20-game stretch where he hit .348 (23 for 66) with a .419 on-base percentage. He also stole 12 bases in that stretch.
At 5-foot-7 and 165 pounds, Gore was never going to mash the ball, but he admits that’s what he once tried doing.
“When I first got here (to the Royals), I was just stubborn, so I would try and hit the ball harder,” Gore said. “I didn’t have the numbers. I tried to be somebody that I wasn’t.
“Vance Wilson, he stayed on me a lot. He definitely was the one who kept my ego down. He’d take me into his office and say, ‘You’re not that guy, you’re not that guy.’ ”
The Royals recognized it, and that’s why Gore was forced to focus on the bunt. Seeing that called with a two-strike count is particularly motivating to a player because there is no margin for error.
Being successful on a two-strike bunt for a player with Gore’s speed almost always equates to a hit, because the third baseman is usually playing back in those situations.
Being unsuccessful means being out.
“I’m thinking,” Gore said of those situations, “I’ve got to get this friggin’ down.”
As Gore’s bunting improved, opposing infielders began playing in. That allowed ground balls to reach the outfield more often. The hits soon followed.
After that, Vance began seeing an improvement in Gore’s swing overall. Gore finished the season with a .284 average and was a Texas League All-Star.
While Gore’s average jumped more than 50 points in 2015 and he was part of the Royals’ postseason team for two rounds, he likely won’t make the big-league club out of spring training.
But manager Ned Yost has taken note of Gore.
“He’s continuing to improve in all areas,” Yost said. “He’s swinging the bat much better than I’ve ever seen him before. He’s really improved in the outfield, and we know how special his base-running ability is.”
Gore, 24, will either be back at Northwest Arkansas or Class AAA Omaha and says he wants to keep growing as a player.
“Just improve my game all around,” he said. “Making contact with the balls, keeping line drives on the ground.”
And, of course, keep bunting.